By Colleen Schreiber
PAWHUSKA, Okla. Drummond Ranches are an institution in the Osage, and Fred A. Drummond is considered by family members to be the patriarch of that institution.
Making a go of it in the cattle business can be a tough venture, but everything the Drummond family has accumulated and accomplished has been done with cattle.
"My dad was a wonderful rancher, probably one of the best I ever knew. I learned the ranching and cattle business from him," Drummond says.
"The most important lesson I learned from him, though, was that my word was my bond. That was the number one thing I never forgot."
That lesson and one about taking care of your banker are two that Fred A. has passed on to his two sons and two grandsons who now basically run the Drummond enterprise.
The Drummond family originated in Scotland. Frederick Drummond, Fred As grandfather, along with one of his brothers, came to the land of opportunity in the late 1800s at the tender age of 18. Two other Drummond sons migrated from their homeland to South Africa.
Frederick came to the U.S. to make his fortune in the cattle business, or so he hoped. He first tried Texas, but luck wasnt in his favor. Drummond was working his way back east, but only got as far as St. Louis when he ran into an Indian trader. The trader offered him a chance to trade with him in the Osage. Drummond had no idea where the Osage even was, but being 18 and broke, he figured why not. Thats how the Drummond family name took root in Osage County.
In 1869 the Osage Indians purchased part of what was then known as the Cherokee strip, now Osage County, for 75 cents an acre from the Cherokee tribe. The Osage Indians, its said, bought the land from the Cherokees because it was too rough for the white mans plow and there was good hunting and fishing in the area.
The Osage tribe was originally located mostly in Northeastern Kansas, Northwestern Missouri and Southwestern Nebraska. The Osage chiefs were the first Indian chiefs that Lewis and Clark took back to meet the "Great White Father" in Washington D.C.
The Osage purchase totaled a million and a half acres, and it was divided among 2229 tribe members. Frederick Drummond, Fred As cousin, has an old plat book, dated 1909, which shows how the land was divided originally. When the young Drummond arrived with his trader partner in the late 1800s, he was one of the first white men to settle in the Osage.
J. Paul Gettys first oil well was in Osage County, and Phillips Petroleum brought in the first million-barrel fields there. The Osage tribe has always owned all the mineral rights in the county, which at one time made them the wealthiest people per capita in the world.
Fred Alexander Drummond was born in 1914 and reared at Hominy, just south of Pawhuska. He grew up in the cattle business, just as his father R.C. had. Most of the Drummonds in Osage County who are in the cattle business today are the R.C. Drummond children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
As with his father and the generation before, ranching was all Fred A. ever wanted to do. By the time he was 12, he had taken out his first note at the bank, and he was trading with the ranch hands long before that. His father co-signed that first note for $3000 so the youngster could buy his first 100 heifers.
When he was 18, Drummond bought his first ranch from his father for $10 an acre.
"It was worth a little more than that," Drummond admits. "Dad never gave me an acre of grass. I always bought everything, but he always sold it to me half price. Thats the way I got my start."
He started college at Oklahoma A&M in 1932. Times were tough, and after a year the young Drummond decided he needed to be back at that ranch full-time making a living. His father, however, didnt approve of his sons decision to lay out of college a year. His father and his uncle both tried to convince him to rethink his decision, but his mind was made up. As a last-ditch effort, the elder Drummonds came up with a plan to get the reluctant scholar down to see his banker, Mr. Flint, who Fred A. greatly respected.
The young Drummond had recently bought some cattle and had them out on grass. That morning at the bank, Flint called him back to his office. Not knowing that it was a setup, so to speak, Drummond told Flint that he had decided to stay out of school that fall.
"Stay out? Oomph. Oh, by the way, how are those steers doing? I told him theyre not quite ready, and Mr. Flint said, Well, thats how you are. Youre not quite ready.
"He said, Ill loan you the money. Now get down there and get your education."
That afternoon Drummond was on his way back to college. He didnt quit again until he had his degree in animal husbandry. That was 1937.
Back then there were a lot more cow-calf operations in the Osage than there are today, and Drummond says a few oldtimers still run cows, but not many. The Osage, like the Flint Hills of Kansas, has primarily been considered steer country. Many a stocker today some 150,000 head have been carried on these tallgrass prairies through the late spring and summer months before going on to the feedlot.
"Stockers have always been considered more profitable in this country," Drummond says. "It takes so much more grass for a cow than it does for a steer about eight acres for a cow and two and a half to three acres to a steer. You can just about run three steers to one cow.
Then adds, "Our grass is just too good for cows. What were doing is selling grass, so were interested in how many pounds of gain were going to get off that acre of grass."
In those early days, Drummond says, not many people ran heifers as stockers. Those that werent grown out for replacements were generally sold to packers as weanlings or milk-fat calves.
Early on, most of the stocker steers were sold as three year-olds and then two year-olds.
"Back then we might have pastures with 500 to 1000 head in them. We would round them up and instead of shipping all of them all at once, we would cut out the fat ones," Drummond explains. "Now our yearlings are weighing pert near as much as the two year-olds because weve bred these cattle up."
Yearlings generally come off the Osage in mid-July through August, weighing 750 to 950 pounds.
"We used to keep them until September or October," he adds, "but we found out that it doesnt pay to leave them after the first of August because they dont gain very much, and if its dry they wont gain anything."
Drummond has always bought and raised reputation cattle, and that quality and reputation attracted buyers from afar. Early on, he sold primarily to the farmer/feeder types in Illinois and Indiana and almost always, he says, they would pay top price.
Years ago he bought a large majority of his "put-together" cattle out of Arkansas; a lot of them also came out of the stockyards at Fort Worth. Today most of their yearling cattle come from Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida and Texas.
Drummond has carried most of his native steers and heifers and even his country cattle on through to the feedlot, but hes been known to sell off grass, too, if the market is right.
In addition to the yearling operation, Drummond also runs a commercial Angus cow herd.
"We were straight Herefords until 1957. That I remember," Drummond remarks. "I had a real good friend in the Angus business. Id be milking my Herefords out and shipping my cancer eyes and he would never have cancer eye or any big bags on his Angus cows. Thats what made me decide to change."
His base herd consisted of 200 heifers which he found at Sedan, Kansas. They carried the heart brand and had originated in the San Angelo area.
"Their bags were big and milk was running out of their teats. They were big cows. I knew those were the ones I wanted," Drummond recalls. "I paid $200 apiece for them. That was top price. I remember that very well."
Drummond says it took awhile before his father came around.
"He wasnt quite ready to go black, but when I went to crossing them back on my Herefords and my calves were about 50 pounds bigger than his, well, Dad says, I believe Ill buy me some black bulls."
Hes been more than pleased with his decision to switch. In all those years, Drummond says, he remembers only one cancer eye and only a few bad bags, but never so bad that they had to be milked out.
"The Angus cattle are just less trouble. Plus, they last a couple of years longer than our Herefords ever did," he says.
Its their native cattle rather than the country types, Drummond says, which prove up best in the feedlot. They gain better and are less prone to sickness, and he attributes that in large part to their breeding and the way they select their replacements.
"We want a big-boned, long, stretchy kind of cow," Drummond says, "just like what we look for in our steers. We watch her breeding and we make damn sure she has a good udder."
Drummond goes on visual appraisal alone to choose his replacements.
"Weve always used our eyes to sort our heifers," Drummond says. "When we wean the calves, we pick the biggest, fattest calves to keep. We do that because we know that cow had to be giving lots of milk or that calf wouldnt be big and fat. Or, if that calf is big and long, we know that cow had to be big and long. Thats the way we picked them back then, and thats still the way we pick them today. Weve never weighed a calf in our life.
"Its all right for these registered outfits to go to all the trouble of recordkeeping and weighing, etc.," he continues, "but hell, for a rancher, thats a waste of time."
Drummond believes the quality of cattle has improved tremendously, but he admits its frustrating when ranchers arent paid for producing that quality. Its particularly troublesome at the feedlot level, he says, where most all cattle are bought on the averages.
"We try to raise the best Angus cattle we can. We pay $3000 to $4000 for a good bull. Were just hoping someday well get paid for that good Angus bull."
The feedlot industry, Drummond says, has been one of the biggest and best changes the cattle business has seen in his lifetime. The added diversity and flexibility which the feedlot provides, he says, has gotten them out of a pinch a time or two.
"If we have a bad drouth, we have somewhere to go with all these stocker cattle," he notes. "We didnt used to have that option. The feedlot has been a great thing."
Like anyone else who has been in the cattle business for more than a couple of years, the tough times are usually the ones that stand out most. For Drummond, the one year he says hell never forget was 1934.
"I was in the business then, but luckily I didnt have too many," Drummond says. "That year Dad sold a set of steers weighing 1000 pounds for three cents a pound," he recalls.
"He shipped one load and then called his banker and told him, youd just as well come and get the cattle, because theres no use me trying to pay you off.
"The banker asked him if he had grass and he said he had plenty of grass, so he told him to just keep them until next year. That next year, 1935, they brought $85 a head."
The biggest change in the industry in his lifetime by far, he says, is modern transportation, "pickups instead of horses. We used to have one cowboy taking care of a couple of hundred head. Now one man can take care of two times as many or more. Roads have made this possible. We had terrible roads back in those days."
In his tenure, Drummond has dealt with the usual ups and downs of the market, drouth, screwworms at one time and always the shortage of funds.
"My biggest worry back then was money," Drummond says. "It was tough to make any money back then when things were cheap. We got along, but we didnt throw any money away. My dad could make a dollar go further than anyone I ever knew."
The screwworm eradication program, Drummond says, was the greatest thing, "next to finding the cure for anaplasmosis." The vaccine for control of anaplasmosis was discovered at the Oklahoma State University Experiment Station at Pawhuska.
Before the fly program went into effect, Drummond roped many a cow and calf out in the pasture to dope them with creosote dip or chloroform. Smear 62, he says, came much later.
After World War II, the first experiment using DDT to spray flies was done on the Drummond Ranch.
"The flies used to be so bad that our cattle would be bunched up in a ball. The flies would be eating them up and there wasnt a damn thing we could do," Drummond recalls.
The DDT, he says, worked wonders.
"We saw instant benefit. It didnt last long, maybe 30 days and wed have to spray again, but we figured it paid."
The patriarch turned 84 a couple of weeks ago, and though hes slowed down a bit and turned over the day to day operations to the younger generation, he still continues to make his rounds at the ranch most every morning. He keeps close tabs on the market, as well, and his grandsons, Drummond says, call him on a regular basis to keep him up to speed on whats happening and to get his input on certain decisions.
When asked if the Osage is the best place to have a ranch, Fred A. speaks like that true patriarch:
"Youre damn right. This is Gods country. The grass and the rainfall and the people, thats what makes this country the best."
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